Published in Ear Magazine, special issue on "Music and Politics", Nov-Dec. 1980, pp. 9-11. Revised and republished in the New Music America '81 Festival Catalogue, June 1981, pp. 49-51.
It is not hard to notice the pervasive assumption that:  
      support for composers = support for performances of new music.   
(By performances I mean composer self-performances, these being the only kind 
receiving much encouragement these days, largely because they are cheapest to 
As a less-than-completely-performance-oriented-composer, I'd like to advance an 
alternative viewpoint. 
PART I : Neglected Musics 
Over-emphasis on concert performances discounts a large part of the most 
meaningful musical experience.  This includes 3 ways music has been most 
meaningful to some of us:  not as a performers, but as listeners, players, and 
as composers. 
From the listener's viewpoint: 
A lot of the musical involvement that has meant most to a lot of people has 
nothing to do with concert performances.  Most of this takes place at home. 
Most music is heard via loudspeakers rather than in live concerts.  This is 
especially true in small towns where concert life is nil, where"new music" has 
never been heard of, but where music is most needed to make life tolerable in 
bleak surroundings.  Exposure via non-concert media (both electronic and live) 
does not destroy the depth or meaning of music.  Musical activity and concert 
activity are not  synonymous.  Many very musical and musically involved people 
never are in a position to discover concerts at all.    
The phonograph, the radio, and printed sheet music provide many people with 
their most important musical experiences.  Composers have been getting little 
support for creation or presentation of works via these media to the large 
number of people who depend on them. A lot of listening to live music in person 
is done without concerts.   
The household musician and household audience are among the most important 
figures in the American musical landscape.  People like to play music for each 
other at home, and the music they play is often composed by others and 
The composition of repertoire for such enjoyment is not fostered by 
concert-oriented funding. Over-emphasis on concert performance inherently biases 
new music output toward benefitting the inhabitants of large urban centers and 
academic communities.  It also reinforces the distinction between traditional 
and new music, and between the passive consumer and the active professional, 
running counter to the way music has always been an integral part of people's 
The brief period of European history in which the concert medium held dominance 
was the period during which concerts were the most efficient method of getting 
musical experiences across to the largest number of people.   At this stage of 
history, they are relatively inefficient compared with newer commoner media. 
From the player's viewpoint: 
Many people get a lot of pleasure from just playing music, without any 
performance concept attached. 
Among amateur (meaning "for the love of it") and even some professional 
musicians, not just improvisation or playing by ear, but  reading thru 
sheet music (including banjo or guitar tablatures) is a common and important form 
of musical experience.  This enjoyment of playing is far different from that of 
performing, and the amount of enjoyment varies with, among other things, the 
degree to which the player finds some genuine personal expression in what 
someone else has written.  While it would seem sensible that the best composers 
be encouraged to create music for this important use, concert emphasis has 
overlooked the inestimable value of playing music when one is alone or in a 
small close group.  The value of such music is not geographically restricted, 
but is probably greatest away from urban centers. 
There is just never enough really fine music to sit down and read through on any 
instrument, music which expresses what you feel and can't express yourself, 
music which you can use to communicate or to change what you feel.  On some 
instruments, there is hardly any good music at all, and most of what is written 
by composers is too difficult technically for the many players who can't afford 
much time to practice.  Much new music doesn't even try to fill this need for 
personal expression which motivates many of us to play, whether we play 
instruments or records, for ourselves or for our friends.  There are probably 
many more people who use music in such ways as an important and integral part of 
their lives than there are members of the (mostly professional and usually urban 
or academic) new music audience to which so much support is allocated and which 
is so much more highly publicized.   
Since entering this world of serious "art" music, I have not met anyone who has 
encouraged the writing of music in indigenous American notational systems, such 
as tablatures or shapenotes, despite this country's high musical literacy in 
such notations.  One is also not encouraged to write easy music in European 
notation which could be cheaply distributed on paper for people to play.  We are 
encouraged to continue composing music which we can perform cheaply in 
one-person concerts for small highly sophisticated passive urban-academic 
audiences.  It is also considered acceptable, but not supported, to incorporate 
other performers into such events, but only at one's own expense, or through 
exchanges of favors. 
From the composer's viewpoint: 
What some of us really need or want by way of help as composers is not more 
opportunity for concerts, but support for the actual process of composing. 
There is a misapprehension on the part of the, mostly well-meaning, burgeoning 
class of new music administration professionals who are not themselves 
composers, that what is good for new music visibility via concerts in their 
"alternative" spaces is good for composers, for new music, and for music and 
people who want music in general.  This assumption is not only not helpful in 
some of the ways in which help is really needed, but is often directly 
These (let's call them) Federal and State Concert Spaces (federal and state 
funded) ask composers to put a good deal of time into preparing performances of 
their own works, for remunerations often insufficient to pay even one's rent for 
the time spent on concert preparation, let alone concert production expenses.  
This encourages the composition of low-budget works for self-performance, often 
works for composer-developed media which, consequently, can never enter a 
general and more pervasive musical repertoire.  Works for standard media require 
hiring players and copying parts, and are too expensive to encourage.   
These concerts are presented to small urban or academic audiences largely 
comprised of individuals with professional involvement in some area of the new 
music scene.  Depending on fashion and other factors, they can be excessively 
critical and competitive, or excessively tolerant.  Composers tend to protect 
themselves in these situations with rational or philosophical substantiations of 
the nature of their work, and these can sometimes take on lives of their own.  
These concerts have relatively little in them of people going out to listen to 
some good music and people trying to make some of it for them.  The concerts 
have to be dangerous adventure for the public and conceptually safe for the 
Usually presented to us as our only alternative for musical participation in 
human society, such concert activity is pressed on us, and furnishes a 
substantial drain on our time, energy, and limited funds, which might otherwise 
go into different forms of musical output which are not concert-oriented (not 
supported).  These concert requests may alternatively be presented to us as 
though it is our duty as composers to accept them, as though the work from which 
they distract us, the composition we may really want to do, is less valuable than 
the few dozen people that may come to the particular organization's concert.  
Mostly, we are presented with requests to do concerts of this type as though 
they were great honors and golden opportunities, which, once missed, will 
forever be regretted.  Such concert requests are always presented as though the 
sponsoring organization is doing a great favor for the composer by asking rather 
than the other way around.  In reality, though rewarding in some ways, these 
concerts generally constitute tremendous drains on time, energy, and finances, 
and produce little besides other similar concert requests.   
Far more benefit really falls to the alternative space than to the composer.  
The space gets all the same benefits as the composer, such as publicity, 
reviews, audience.  But, it also gets funding for rent, utilities, equipment, 
and administrative salaries far exceeding composer grants in size and far more 
stable than composers' incomes.  (If the composer gets a grant half the size of 
an administrator's annual salary every 5 years, the composer is considered to be 
doing extremely well.  A CAPS is well below poverty level income, and you can't 
re-apply for years.)  Concert space subsidies are governmental funds for the 
arts which are not being used to help in the creation of works, nor as subsidies 
for creative artists, nor in the distribution of new works via the media through 
which most musical experience is obtained nationwide.  These funds are used for 
paying high per capita overhead on bringing music to a small group mostly of new 
music professionals. 
The enticements for composers to do these concerts are not unlike the lures of 
compulsive gambling.  Each time we are asked (and want) to believe that if we 
put our time and energy into this one more tiny underpaid concert, something 
will happen as a consequence which will actually help us, make our work easier, 
provide a bridge to audiences outside of this little professional community.  We 
are led to believe that if we turn down this gig, we will forever regret having 
missed some great opportunity.  Rarely does such opportunity result from such 
concerts.  We just do one more and then one more.  Our compositional output drops 
due to lack of time, as does our investigation of other outlets for our work, 
and other types of composition than those for our own performance.  
When under pressure to prepare a concert, composers are frequently observed to 
stop whatever work they do for money (plumbing, carpentry are common), get 
behind in rent, go into debt to hire players and cover production expenses, stop 
working on pieces they are really involved in to do something more appropriate 
and practical, refuse to take time to see friends, or to eat right or sleep 
Composer concerts can be great for those composers who really want to be 
performers too, or to whom self-performance is an integral part of their 
compositional concept, but they comprise only a subset of active composers.  For 
those more interested in writing simple music for people for play at home or 
alone, or complex music for players with technique beyond their own, larger 
groups than can be gotten for $75, for instruments one does not play oneself, 
for recorded use, publication, or on commission, these performances only make 
you  over-worked and over-drawn at the bank, locking you into a cycle of 
pressure to create low-budget self-playable pieces which denies the time for 
other endeavors.  Such performances are seen as the only road to any kind of 
support, and they are often undertaken in hope of gaining recognition which will 
ultimately permit pursuit of some other musical direction. 
What some of us feel we are best at, and also where we get our greatest 
pleasure, is in the process of composing itself, not in going in front of an 
audience.  There are plenty of people who are best at performing and get their 
greatest pleasure from it (and are even looking for new works to play).  For 
some of us, the act of composition itself is the performance.  We put as much of 
ourselves into that as any performer puts into his rendition.  Unfortunately, 
the activity of composing takes place alone at home, and has extremely low 
visibility.  (A sign in the window saying, "This hour at home alone made 
possible with funding by..."?   Only in public performance does an organization 
get the publicity which provides a strong incentive for its support of the 
Does an organization wishing to support the creation of new music have an 
alternative to funding concerts? 
PART II : Alternative forms of help 
Other possible forms of help to composers, simple practical savings of time and 
money which might be worth more than just another small concert to do, might 
A messenger service:  Standing in line at the post office, dropping things off 
and picking them up  -  tapes, scores, equipment being fixed, manuscripts to the 
copyist, revised parts to the players, or half-hour excursions to xerox 2 pages, 
equipment or instruments transported... 
Free xeroxing, music printing, music copying, tape duplicating service, postage 
and materials reimbursement for person-to-person (non mass) distribution of 
works within the music community:  These are among the types of services that 
composers could use all the time.  Composers run around asking favors every time 
they need to make a good quality tape dub, unless they have more than one deck, 
in which case everyone else calls needing to run copies.  What percentage of a 
commission goes for copying costs, or how much time and extra last-minute 
tension go into copying parts oneself?  Too often, you don't send copies of your 
works to those who want them, even for performance or radio use, because you 
can't afford the time (or money) to make them. 
Services composers use all the time could be supplied or subsidized.  There 
could be an account to which composers could charge duplication and other 
services.  One would simply have to register as a composer to use such an 
account as a place to bill music-related expenses.  (All composers could be 
issued a MasterCompose card, usable like a MasterCharge card, up to a certain 
annual credit limit, for musical expenses only.  This could either be free or 
partially subsidized, paid later by the composer at a discount, or at least, 
repaid as a loan.)   
Less help to more composers:  So far, Meet-the-Composer is the only organization 
around to have enough intelligence to make a policy of giving a little help to a 
lot of people, rather than distributing a tiny number of "large" individual 
grants.  Why are there no composition (as opposed to performance) oriented 
organizations with such a policy?  Even if we still did believe the old model of 
the Few Great Genius Composers, who is to decide which ones they are? 
M.I.E.C. (a Musical Instrument Equipment Center, modeled on the film-video 
version, MERC):  Making available microphones, tape recorders, but also, an 
instrument library, to check out a cello or some other instrument you are 
interested in so you can understand it better while writing for it, like you 
could as a music student?  Where you can go to try something out on a piano if 
you don't have one due to lack of space or funds, or to rehearse or tape a 
Repair and maintenance for instruments and tools:  Funded technicians for piano 
tuning, or to calibrate, align, and lubricate tape decks or fix them, or other 
Clerical help:  Program notes or other statements that must be done, 
applications, descriptions, lectures, biographical information, ciriculum vitae 
and lists of works and performances, correspondence, etc. 
Performers:  They may want to do new music, but they can't afford to work for 
free either. 
Information Services:  There is no service available to composers to cross 
reference the interests of music publishers, record producers, choreographers, 
professional performers, amateur music groups, instrument-oriented societies and 
publications, independent film and video producers or local theater groups 
looking for music, with what individual composers are doing or want to do. Why 
does each composer and each user of music have to research this all over again 
independently?  What about lists of grants, competitions, and commissions broken 
down by category? or maybe even job categories currently open to composers?  
(teaching, tuning, teching, editing, soundtracking) 
Purchases:   First, manuscript paper, recording tape,  all the little items you 
use up.  Then scores, records, and books, for reference and study (a composer's 
education is never done).  Lastly, there are big ones, a tape recorder, or 
piano, or an amplifier.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to charge at least some 
of these to the N.E.A?  For composers of any level of establishment, one would 
think that there should be funding available, outright for the small things, and 
at the very least, discounts thru partial subsidy or interest-free loans for the 
larger ones.  Shouldn't help be available for ANY expenses which would be 
legitimately deductible from your income taxes, as professional expenses if you 
made money at this work? 
Services for composers comparable to those supplied to other musicians by their 
union:  Composers who are not performers do not get low-cost group insurance 
plans, membership in a credit union, or other benefits that performers get. 
Subsidies for alternative (non-concert) media:  For record companies, music 
publishers, radio producers, as fear of economic loss often keeps them from 
being able to put out music they may otherwise want to.  
The problem is largely that the people who are in positions to decide on 
allocation of funds to help composers are often unfamiliar with composers' 
needs.  They form an image of what might be helpful to composers on the basis of 
viewing composers in their most visible state - giving concerts, rather than in 
their most characteristic state: trying to find time write, and still survive.  
It is assumed that the composers' chief area of activity and potential benefit 
is concert activity rather than actually spending time composing.   This 
unfortunate conclusion is reinforced by the administrations of concert spaces, 
who are likelier to have their own concerns more in mind than the composers, and 
who are in positions to lobby relatively well for funding, because they are 
professional administrators and organizers in direct contact with the sources or 
funds, have high community visibility, and can pass that visibility on to 
funding organizations desiring same.  
PART III : A Historical, Social, and Economic Analysis 
Superficially viewed, it appears that "the show" may have taken on more 
importance than music.   There are deeper levels to this situation, which 
obviously did not arise from nothing.  New music concerts are not just public 
playings of music.  They are rituals, rallying points, of a community.  This 
newer, concert-centered community has evolved out of the older academic 
The new concert scene has taken over many of the functions, social and 
supportive, that the academic community formerly provided to composers.  It 
provides (not just concert halls, as colleges did, but) a peer group with a sense 
of identity apart from the "outside world."  It provides ways of making 
political and social contact, and a sense of position (including upward 
mobility) in a social hierarchy, and a vehicle for interchange of ideas and 
There are some important things, however, which are NOT provided by this 
non-academic concert-centered new music community, but which WERE provided by 
the academic predecessor community.  These include steady salaries for the 
community's composer members, and access to performers, which were usually 
students and fellow faculty.  (These appear to be the 2 greatest support 
deficiencies of the new non-academic concert-music scene.)  Also missing are 
fringe benefits of employment, such as group insurance, extensive library 
facilities including musical instrument libraries, record and score collections, 
audio-visual equipment centers, staff technicians, practice and rehearsal space, 
free xeroxing and materials, and student assistants. 
As any other community, the concert world tends to discourage or ignore behavior 
which differs from its own customs in order to support its sense of group 
identity, its differentness.  In music this means by discouraging or ignoring 
non-concert music.  A primary criterion of new music community membership seems 
to be personal involvement in concert activity, whether thru performance, 
administrative, or technical skills, or simply consistent concert attendance, 
rather than the act of composition. 
Like any group, the concert community does not encourage or deal with private 
activities.  Most private activities tend to be viewed as antisocial in any kind 
of community.  Composition, unlike performance, is a solitary activity.  While 
it is not discouraged, it is not supported.  The composer at home working is 
less attractive to deal with than the highly visible performer, and is no where 
near as attractive as the concert scene social order and its suborganizations, 
for those who want to be supportively involved.  Also, private creation of music 
for private use may be viewed suspiciously relative to the work of those who 
consistently appear publicly before the social peer group and create works 
expressly for it.   
All this has little to do with the nature or quality of the music being created. 
It relates to the social sphere from which composers hope to gain support for 
difficult, time-consuming, unremunerative work, and is written in hope of 
elucidating the frustrations encountered in attempting to obtain support for 
anything other than self-performances in new-music spaces.   The problem 
underlying this is that support is being sought from and channelled through a 
social group whose community is predicated on participation in performance 
gatherings, rather than on composition of music per se, or on attempts at 
developing direct relationships with "outside people" who might really want 
various kinds of music.  
To end on an extreme, this Devil's Advocacy can be extended to full paranoia 
with the observation that the funding and channelling organizations involved in 
new music support have a vested interest in the monopolization of musical need.  
To the extent that support for new music could be decentralized to the greater 
public via non-concert media, these organizations stand to lose a great deal.   
The smaller "grass roots" ones, such as concert spaces, stand to lose not just 
spaces and jobs, but their community, and function.  The larger ones, 
foundations, private and public subsidizers, would stand to lose not only 
control over artistic production and administrative jobs in prestige areas, but 
a medium for corporate and government advertising and image ameliorisation 
(often leading to their own increased power and subsidy), and sizable tax 
loopholes, which are harder and harder to find.  These vested interests explain 
why new music funding has not focussed on courses of action that might minimize 
or ultimately eliminate the need for funding organizations themselves.  The 
restriction of funding to concert related activities restricts the audience and 
base of support for new music, perpetuates the need for funding and its 
administration, and protects the interests, not of music, but of those involved 
in funding itself. 
I would like to end this article with an apology to the many sincere and helpful 
individuals in new music funding and concert administration who I do not mean to 
scathe in this criticism of the system in which they also must function.  
Laurie Spiegel           September, 1980 
175 Duane Street 
NYC, NY 10013 

Copyright © 1991 Laurie Spiegel. All rights reserved.
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